Mar 21, 2023

Donelan: It's a Gay Life

When I was in grad school in Bloomington in 1982 and 1983, I was able to get copies of The Advocate at the adult bookstore.  One of my favorite features was a series of single-panel New Yorker-style cartoons, "It's a Gay Life," by Donelan,  lampooning the culture of 1970s gay neighborhoods: brunch, boyfriends, leathermen, queens, cruising, decorating, activism....

"Oh, please, girlfriend.  Isn't brunch a little too early for attitude?"

Some cartoons were about the reaction of straights, those who knew -- and were ok with it.  In a clueless, stereotyping way.

"I know a homosexual.  George knows a homosexual.  You must have so much in common.  So here we are.

Others who didn't know, and didn't want to know.

"Did your roommate just say he was going to 'freshen his makeup'?"

I was most drawn to the cartoons depicting gay men in pairs and groups.  There was a whole society out there somewhere, a place where being gay was commonplace, even expected, where straights were the interlopers and strangers.

"I'd be more impressed if you could name me one man here you haven't dated."

I wanted that world.

Gerald P. Donelan grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and moved to San Francisco in the 1970s.  He published "It's a Gay Life" from 1978 to 1993.  There were two  reprints of his cartoons: Drawing on the Gay Experience (1987) and Donelan's Back (1988).  His work also appeared in Frontiers and in the Meatmen series of gay comic anthologies.

Today his work seems a bit dated, keying into feminine stereotypes a bit too much.  But in the height of the homophobic 1980s, it was a revelation.

"Tell me again the difference between eclectic and tacky."

See also: Howard Cruse.

Mar 20, 2023

Bob Morane: James Bond without the Girls

When I was in high school in the 1970s, French class offered a practically infinite amount of beefcake-and-bonding riches.  If you tired of the Green Library, you could always move on to the Marabout Junior series, which featured adventurer Bob Morane.

Bob Morane was a former RAF pilot who worked as a reporter and freelance adventurer, often accepting secret-agent or detective assignments.  In later volumes he worked for the Time Patrol, going back to dinosaur times or fighting androids in outer space.

 There weren't a lot of illustrations, but those the books had displayed Bob with a massive chest, usually when one of the bad guys (such as Ming "The Yellow Shadow") had him strung up for weird torture.

Bob's best buddy, a Scotch bodybuilder  usually traveled with him to provide the gay subtexts, and get strung up for a series of "my hero!" rescues.

Ok, there were some girls. But I don't remember Bob actually having sex, and the girl-chasing was minimal, far less than in James Bond.

Belgian author Henri Vernes published 12 volumes of Bob Morane's adventures (1958-67).  Most have been translated into English. There have also been over 100 bandes-dessinee (which I haven't read), a 1964-5 tv series (with Claude Titre as Bob Morane and Billy Kearns as Bob Ballantine), a 1998 animated series, and some tie-in video games and toys.

Grit: Beefcake and Bonding in an Attic in Rural Indiana

Every summer, and sometimes at Christmas, we visited my Grandma Davis in Indiana.  She had an attic full of old magazines, and my brother and I used to spend rainy afternoons there, leafing through half a century worth of browning ephemera.

Today I get the impression of someone who longed for an urbane, sophisticated life as an artist in Jazz Age New York, but somehow found herself in a farmhouse in rural Indiana, with a husband who was gone weeks at a time, and spent her life lapsing between attempts to rebel and attempts to adapt:

Rebellion:  Nash's, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post

Adaption: Better Homes and Gardens, The Farmer's Wife, Grit


Who would name a newspaper after that gross stuff that gets in your eye after you sleep?

Maybe it was grits, the gross Southern food made out of boiled corn.

It was like a tabloid newspaper, with lots of human interest stories: a blind guy who works as a postal carrier, a woman who found her lost wedding ring in an egg laid by her chicken, a traffic accident that reunited a father and his long-lost son.

Nothing that took place anything near a city: in the world of Grit, no settlement with a population over 2,000 exist in the U.S.

No foreign countries exist, either.  Or black people.  Or Jews.  Or women who weren't housewives.  Or gay men and lesbians.

But -- there were a lot of cute 4-H Boys holding up prize sheep, providing a hint of beefcake on rainy rural afternoons.

Here's a shirtless boy in a bunkhouse at the Millstone 4-H Camp in Ellerbee, North Carolina, 1961.

There were also pages of comic strips, some the old-fashioned dinosaur strips familiar from the Rock Island Argus -- Blondie Prince Valiant, Out Our Way -- and some even older.

Beefcake titles like  Jungle Jim, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon.

Very nice physique, for a guy from the 1930s with his head wrapped in a plastic bag.

Here's an ad from Grit about selling Grit.  

$6 in 1956 is the equivalent of $50 today.  Not a bad source of income.

Grit was founded in 1885 by German immigrant Dietrich Lamade.  It was especially popular in the 1930s and 1940s, with over 400,000 weekly subscribers, competing favorably with newspapers that wouldn't deliver to rural areas.

The decline of the rural population after World War II, and competition from radio and television, led to a nosedive in subscriptions.  By 2000, there were less than 10,000 subscribers, mostly elderly.

Under new management, Grit has rebranded itself  as a bimonthly blog and print magazine for food and gardening enthusiasts, with articles on free range chickens, hybrid tomatoes, and lawn mower maintenance.

The new Grit is more inclusive, with racial and religious minorities, urban dwellers, and gay men and lesbians:

"Who do you call when you have an animal in trouble?  The ladies next door are at work, and I can no longer phone the gay guys down the street because they have me blocked since we had a shouting match about being invited to a Pampered Chef party, so I call the SPCA."

 It has over 150,000 subscribers.

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